Lunatic's Serenade

Slipknot - 11/30/2014
Toronto/Air Canada Centre

It’s January 2014, and Slipknot are wounded and bleeding. Still reeling from the overdose death of bassist Paul Gray, the Grammy-winning, platinum-selling crew have fired founding drummer Joey Jordison. Bereft of a rhythm section as well as two principal songwriters (it was Grey behind the anthemic track ‘Duality’, among many others), few wouldn’t have understood if these amputations proved fatal to Slipknot and the remaining members retreated into their respective side-and-solo projects.

But to the surprise of many, the masked madmen soldiered on, playing greatest-hits sets at festivals and writing songs for a new album. The vacant slots were eventually filled with replacement musicians, their identities as yet formally unannounced, and the album .5 THE GREY CHAPTER was finally released to a generally positive fan reception. After launching the revised Slipknot lineup at their own Knotfest in August, a full headlining tour was duly plotted, and Sunday, November thirtieth brought the Prepare for Hell circus to Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.

The evening began with a sputter, as concertgoers arriving early to catch openers and Slipknot label-mates King 810 were met with an empty stage. Venue staff informed the curious that several King 810 members had criminal records and were denied entry at the Canadian border, a hazard that has sunk the ambitions of numerous bands hoping to play Canadian dates (and good luck with the European leg of this tour, fellas…).

Eventually, second–billed Korn appeared onstage to break the tedium; their show was admirably unadorned, the band playing in front of a plain black curtain meant to hide Slipknot’s more elaborate stage set-up behind them. Korn had graced Toronto with a singles-heavy set only five months previous as part of the travelling Mayhem festival, and the band wisely chose to mix things up for tonight’s return. Korn were tight and energized, drawing upon their lengthy catalogue for their fifty-minute set. Leading with the silly, gibbering snippet ‘Twist’ from the LIFE IS PEACHY album, the band then laid into the pumping ‘Here To Stay’ from UNTOUCHABLES. Longtime fans were then treated to a scorching version of ‘Right Now’, the lead track from the unfairly derided TAKE A LOOK IN THE MIRROR, the band then leading into a strong album cut from their latest, THE PARADIGM SHIFT. There was one glaring mistake made later in the setlist—Korn must have felt obligated to play the track ‘Hater’, only available digitally or on a special tour edition of PARADIGM, but the relatively soft tune deflated the motion on the floor, and moshing abruptly halted. Momentum recovered with ‘Shoots and Ladders’ morphing into the heavy section of Metallica’s ‘One’, to the delight of the crowd, and Korn finished off with standard closer “Blind”.

"The energy was there, fed by teeming circle pits in front of the stage..."

Now it was Slipknot’s turn, facing an Air Canada Centre at about ninety percent capacity. A hush fell over the crowd as the house lights dropped, and the slow and haunting GREY CHAPTER lead track ‘XIX’ was piped in over the speakers. This reviewer felt a genuine chill as the arena sang along in unison with the agonized eulogy to the departed Grey, before the curtain dropped and the band ripped into ‘Sarcastrophe’, also from the new album. Slipknot’s stage set had a carnival feel, with a warped funhouse mirror reflecting L.E.D. lights and a giant grinning devil/goat head peering over top of it. The drum kits of percussionists Clown and Chris Fehn were adorned with goat heads, bringing to mind the cover of Slipknot’s beloved and unbelievably heavy second album IOWA, and the subsequent trotting out of two cuts from that album, ‘The Heretic Anthem’ and ‘My Plague’, hammered home the association. “We’re making up for lost time,” singer Corey Taylor then declared, acknowledging the long hiatus between Toronto visits (though the band did hit town on one of their 2012 festival dates). New tracks ‘The Devil and I’ and ‘The Negative One’ sounded fantastic live, deserving of their spots next to classic old favorites like ‘The Blister Exists’ and ‘Psychosocial’. After the presentation of Slipknot’s Canadian gold record certification for GREY CHAPTER (wonder if the band giving away a digital copy of GREY CHAPTER with each concert ticket sold counted toward album sales?), the main set closed with ‘Spit It Out’ and new song ‘Custer’—its cleverly simplistic shout-along refrain of “Cut, cut, cut me up/and fuck, fuck, fuck me up” rattling the arena rafters. The encore was predictable but effective, with ‘Sic’, ‘People=Shit’, and ‘Surfacing’ whipping the crowd up before leaving them exhausted.

Slipknot were appropriately ferocious throughout the show; guitarist Jim Root’s leads are still pinpoint, Clown’s capering still amusing, and Taylor’s lion roar holding strong right to the final song. Where the band lacked was with the new members: The drummer (reportedly Jay Weinberg, formerly of punk rockers Against Me), is competent but hasn’t got the flair and the showy fills that made Jordison’s drumming so thrilling, and he wasn’t accorded a solo slot as Jordison usually was. The bass player also made for a subdued presence, hanging far back behind Root for the majority of the set. This hesitance on the part of the new members is understandable, but the hired hands made this new iteration of the band feel a bit less like the insane, frenzied nine-headed Hydra that made the band such a force live. The energy was there, fed by teeming circle pits in front of the stage that truly exploded during the encore, but the lunatic moves of old—the aura of danger from band members brawling or urinating on each other, of D.J. Sid Wilson leaping off of speakers stacked so high that his heels shatter—is no longer present. Whether that’s due to the loss of Grey and Jordison, less chemical substances being abused offstage, or simply the band members aging, it feels like this ‘Knot has lost a half-step. Still, the new material is up to par, the raging circle pit filled with kids too young to remember the band in its heyday didn’t seem at all put off, and it should never be forgotten that it’s a blessing that Slipknot is even around to tour at all.

Trevor Parker, HMS

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